"We are now not short on recommendations. Ultimately, the problems in investigating and prosecuting rapes are plain and clear and it is drive and leadership to bring fundamental change on the ground that is now urgently needed."
The criminal justice system (CJS) is failing victims of rape, and widespread reform is needed to build trust and secure justice, a new joint inspectorates report has found.
A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) found that a lack of collaboration between the police and prosecutors has led to delays and poor communication with victims.
Inspectors found that on average, 706 days elapsed from the date of reporting an offence to the police to the start of the trial. The report raised significant concerns about the quality of communication with victims, including that updates to victims about the progress of their case post-charge were frequently disjointed and contradictory, and sometimes did not take place at all.
HMICFRS and HMCPSI jointly made nine recommendations in the second phase of their inspection, including that:
- police and prosecutors should review and significantly improve communications with victims from the point of charge onwards;
- the Ministry of Justice should set up specialist rape offence courts to help clear the significant Crown Court backlog of rape cases; and
- the Home Office and the Ministerial Lead for Rape and Serious Sexual Offences should consult widely on the benefits of a commissioner with explicit responsibility for tackling rape and serious sexual offences.
The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said:
“As a society, we expect that victims of one of the most appalling crimes will be treated with dignity and be able to access justice. The report today shows that this is far from the experience of many rape victims. As the authors of this report readily acknowledge, many of their arguments are by now well-rehearsed, having been previously aired and repeated to little effect. I echo their renewed calls for those who lead our criminal justice agencies to bring about urgent and drastic improvements, and I welcome the report’s new, substantive recommendations.
“This starts with a radical shift in culture to suspect-focussed investigations and prosecutions, whilst ensuring victim-centred engagement. The CPS stand judged of failure to build strong cases and for unacceptably poor communications with victims. Certainly, the CPS is a long way away from where it claims to be. In striking examples, prosecutors are found to miss or disregard opportunities for applications to have the defendant’s bad character put before the jury and many prosecutors seem to find the crucial task of engaging with victims beyond them. Such disregard profoundly impacts victim confidence and the prosecution’s failure to build strong cases results in fewer and fewer convictions, as the statistics make only too clear.
“Justice delayed is often justice denied. We know that court delays exert a huge psychological toll on victims and the stress and uncertainty of years-long waits for justice is driving many to drop their claims altogether. Faced with such challenges, it’s vital that justice for rape victims is prioritised. I welcome proposals for specialist rape courts to help clear the Crown Court backlog of rape cases. This needs to be staffed by specialist judges and lawyers and accompanied by the rapid rollout of pre-recorded video evidence and cross-examination (Section 28).
“I thank the inspectorates for this valuable report and some welcome recommendations. Over the past year, we have seen many such reports come and go, often treading much the same, familiar ground. We are now not short on recommendations. Ultimately, the problems in investigating and prosecuting rapes are plain and clear and it is drive and leadership to bring fundamental change on the ground that is now urgently needed.”
- Get the report: A joint thematic inspection of the police and Crown Prosecution Service’s response to rape. Phase 2: Post-charge
- HMICFRS/HMCPSI press release: Criminal justice system continues to fail rape victims